On senior day at Villanova, a sophomore played his best game of the season to make sure the Wildcats trio of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds closed out their Pavilion careers in style.
Eric Paschall, playing the type of inside game at both ends of the court that his team hasn't had since Reynolds was sidelined with a rib injury, scored a Villanova career-high 19 points Saturday to help fuel a 79-63 victory over No. 23 Creighton and wrap up the Cats' fourth consecutive conference regular-season championship.
The Wildcats (27-3, 14-3 Big East) successfully wrapped up the first phase in the life of the 31-year-old Pavilion, which will undergo a $60 million renovation starting this summer and will not be available for the 2017-18 season.
Hart had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Jenkins scored 15 points with just one three-point basket, showing a variety of moves from in close. Reynolds missed his fifth straight game but joined Hart and Jenkins in uniform standing on a baseline table soaking in the cheers from the student section after the final buzzer.
"It's definitely emotional," Hart said. "Obviously that's more so at the beginning of the game for our parents, celebrating them. After that, it's the game. . . . This game isn't about the seniors, it's about the next step in our journey. I think we fought and we battled and I'm proud of us for that. After the game, it was great seeing all that."
The game was more of a battle than the final score indicated. The Bluejays (22-7, 9-7) rallied from a 10-point deficit to draw even at 33-33 at halftime. The two teams traded baskets in the first 8½ minutes of the second half and neither side led by more than three.
Then Jenkins knocked down his only three-pointer of the game, and the Wildcats' roll started. The basket touched off a string of nine consecutive possessions with points. Paschall wrapped up the spurt by tipping in Hart's miss, then bulling inside for a basket to put 'Nova ahead 67-55 with 5 minutes, 9 seconds remaining.
Creighton, which was led by Marcus Foster with 25 points, never got closer than seven after that.
Paschall, a transfer from Fordham, went 8 of 12 from the field, 8 of 9 from inside the arc. In addition to his offense, he helped harass 7-foot redshirt freshman Justin Patton, a likely NBA lottery pick if he comes out, into a four-point, five-rebound, six-turnover afternoon.
"Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "When he's in the game, we are executing at a high level. We're just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program you've got to be able to do that first, and he's been doing that all year and getting better and better."
Paschall credited his senior teammates with doing "a great job of telling me what to do in games, and just having my attitude right during the game."
The seniors closed out their home careers with a victory and celebrated with their parents and loved ones afterward. But while postgame questions attempted to have the players sum up their careers and their accomplishments, Jenkins chimed in, evidently remembering that the Wildcats played 10 games after 2016 senior day, ending up with the sport's biggest prize.
"It's not over," Jenkins said.